Catalysts & Activation Energy

What is a catalyst?

A catalyst is a compound or element that increases the rate of a chemical reaction, e.g. the speed at which it occurs, without itself being part of the reaction. Generally speaking, a catalyst is not destroyed or changed in the reaction. A catalyst does this by lowering the activation energy, which we explain in the next section

What is activation energy?

In simple terms, the definition of activation energy is the energy needed to start a reaction between two or more elements or compounds. A reaction with a high activation energy may proceed slowly, or not at all. To speed up or start a reaction, you can either add the necessary activation energy, or use a catalyst which lowers this requirement, effectively speeding up the reaction.

List of common catalysts:

  • Vanadium pentoxide (making sulfuric acid)
  • Palladium metal
  • Manganese dioxide
  • Platinum metal (in catalytic converters)
  • Iron metal (in the Haber process)
  • Aluminum chloride (many organic reactions)
  • Copper (II) oxide

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